Merger talk intensifies following Meningie Bears’ final game
Could an eighth team be admitted to the River Murray Football League as soon as next season?
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As the River Murray Football League farewells the Meningie Bears and prepares for its grand final this Saturday, its composition for 2023 remains uncertain.
There will be at least seven teams in the league next season, with the Coorong Cats coming in after Meningie’s merger with Border Downs-Tintinara.
But it is “possible” that there could yet be an eighth, according to the chair of a committee looking at the long-term future of football in the region.
Former Meningie great Mick O’Hara has led discussions between the River Murray, Mallee and Riverland leagues, and their clubs, over the past 12 months.
He suggested that more changes were yet to come to community footy in the region, whether it was next year, in 2024 or sometime after that.
The most likely prospect was that “a number of clubs” would amalgamate and come into the River Murray league as one team, he said.
“There’s a lot of talk going on at the moment,” he said.
“If you don’t make some decisions, you could wind up with no football in your town.
“Half a footy team is better than no footy team.
“Meningie are going from eight to four home games a year, but at least they’re not going from eight to zero.”
Rural population decline was the biggest problem facing clubs across country South Australia, Mr O’Hara said.
A shortage of senior players was compounded by the lack of juniors coming through the ranks – which, in turn, meant fewer parents and grandparents were available to fill volunteer roles.
Still, the River Murray league was in a healthy state, he said, since most of its clubs could feed off Murray Bridge’s population and growth.
That made it an attractive proposition for clubs looking to secure their survival.
River Murray is ready to swing into action if needed
RMFL president Michelle Hill said the league would be ready to welcome an eighth club if it received an application.
There would be meetings to be held, balance sheets and facilities to inspect, and SANFL approval to gain; but that could all happen fairly quickly if necessary.
“Borders-Meningie has been a couple of years (in the making), and normally you’d like time, but it depends on the climate,” she said.
The league would not interfere in decisions being made in clubrooms elsewhere, she said.
But she admitted that, after years of rumour-mongering, “the talk is a bit more intense than it has been”.
It will undoubtedly continue between Saturday’s grand final at Jervois and the RMFL’s annual general meeting in December.
Farewell, Meningie Bears
In the meantime, the Bears’ A grade footballers were denied a fairy tale finish on Saturday, with a 15-point loss to Imperials in the RMFL’s preliminary final.
At least Meningie’s loyal sons had the privilege of playing their last match in maroon and gold at their home ground.
Few eyes were left dry as they walked off through a guard of honour made up of their own supporters and the Imperial players who had just beaten them.
The town’s netball club had already bowed out the week before, as none of its teams qualified for the River Murray Netball Association’s grand finals; and the footballers sang their song for the last time on August 28.
But footy club president Adam Hurle said locals were excited about the merged Coorong Cats.
The club’s new identity was was revealed last month, six weeks after the announcement of the Meningie-BDT merger.
“The support that we’ve had over the last few months … everyone around the club has just stuck by us,” Mr Hurle said at Monday night’s Mail Medal count in Murray Bridge.
“It has just been fantastic … that the Meningie Football Club has had the foresight to do something.
“I think there’s plenty of other clubs that really need to get out there and start talking to their neighbours and start to think about the future, because that’s what we’re all here for.”
Meningie’s fans expressed sadness about the club’s last stand on Saturday, but also excitement – and relief.
Rayleen Hurle, a local resident for 57 years, said the merger had been sad but necessary.
“I think of the young people in the district,” she said.
“Our populations aren’t getting any bigger and it will make the clubs stronger.
“We must be positive about the changes for the future.”
Graeme and Elaine Hall said they had come back to Meningie from Adelaide to watch games for decades, following his playing career in the A and B grade.
“I’m disappointed to see the maroon and gold of Meningie go,” he said.
“(But) even with the disappointment, I’m looking forward to the Coorong Cats and the new identity.
“I think it will make for a more competitive competition.”
Natasha Swan said she had been in favour of the merger, too, as her son had just become involved with the club through the Auskick program.
RMFL’s newest club will inherit more than 120 years of history
Meningie, Border Downs and Tintinara’s football clubs all trace their lineages back to the Lakes District Football Association, which ceased to exist in the 1950s.
Meningie had been established prior to 1898 and Tintinara in 1912.
Border Downs was the product of a merger between former LDFA sides Coonalpyn and Coomandook-Yumali in 1955.
The Magpies and Tintinara both played in the Tatiara league until they, too merged in 1993.
BDT became the first club in South Australia to adopt the red, blue and gold of the Adelaide Crows, and initially played in the River Murray league before moving to the Mallee in 2002.
More information about the Coorong Cats: Search for “Coorong Cats” on Facebook.
Correction: An earlier version of this post gave Ms Hill an incorrect title.